Researchers have found that prostate cancer can be divided into five subgroups with distinct genetic fingerprints.
The subgroups were more accurate at predicting tumour aggressiveness than current methods and could be used in future to tailor treatment to particular patients.
'This research could be game changing if the results hold up in larger clinical trials and could give us better information to guide each man's treatment,' commented Professor Malcolm Mason from Cancer Research UK, which funded the study.
The researchers, who reported their findings in EBioMedicine, studied tumour samples from 156 UK men with prostate cancer. By profiling mutations in and expression of 100 key genes, they were able to categorise men into five separate groups. The researchers then confirmed these classifications in another group of 103 men from Sweden.
Using these groupings, the team were then able to predict which men were most likely to relapse following surgery. In both the UK and Swedish patients, men with the most genetic alterations were more likely to have their disease come back than men with fewer alterations.
In the analyses, this new system was better able to predict prognosis than prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing or Gleason score – two methods currently used in the clinic. The researchers say it could therefore be used to help better tailor treatments to patients.
'The idea is that these gene signatures could be used alongside other clinical tests like the Gleason score and PSA test to give doctors a more accurate idea of how men will do after an operation to remove their prostate,' said lead author Dr Alistair Lamb, from the University of Cambridge.
However, Dr Lamb commented that further research is needed before the technique could be used by doctors to confirm the findings in a larger study and explore whether it can be used to reduce the number of men relapsing after surgery.
'The next step is to confirm these results in bigger studies and drill down into the molecular "nuts and bolts" of each specific prostate cancer type,' he said.